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This article is written by Paridhi Dave, a student at the Institute of Law, Nirma University. 

This is an exhaustive article which deals with the intricacies attached to the post of Forest Officers under the Indian Forest Act.

 

Introduction

Forests comprise as an essential natural resource for maintaining the ecological balance in any territory. The word forest has its roots in the Latin word ‘foris’ which means ‘outside’. It functions as a habitat to several species of flora and fauna and also caters to the needs of human beings. In contemporary times where climate change has posed several challenges, it is essential that conservation of forests is given due importance.

In this article, the role of forest officers has been discussed as has been provided under the Indian Forest Act, 1927.

The Indian Forest Act, 1927

The Indian Forest Act, 1927 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’) is legislation governing the law relating to reserved forests, protected forests, village-forests, the transit of forest produce, forest officers, penalties and procedure and other miscellaneous aspects. This Act is revised legislation based on previous colonial forest laws and is more comprehensive. The Act consists of 86 sections divided into 13 chapters. The Act is a special law within the meaning of Section 5 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, as was held in Kailash Chand vs. State of MP (1994).

The objective of the Act is to preserve and safeguard the forests in India. This legislation is in consonance with the basic tenets of the Constitution of India, 1950. Environmental protection under the constitutional framework is a result of evolution through time. The subject of forests and protection of wildlife is in the concurrent list, i.e., List III of Schedule VII under the Constitution.

Under the Constitution, Article 51-A(g), which forms a part of the Fundamental Duties, highlights the duty of Indian citizens to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and also to have compassion for living creatures.

Article 48-A of the Indian Constitution highlights the duty of the state to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. 

Furthermore, under Part III of the Constitution which deals with Fundamental Rights, the right to environment is also included under the ambit of Article 21. The golden triangle of Article 14,19 and 21 has been used for environmental protection. This right was first recognized in the case of Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra vs. State (AIR 1988 SC 2187) also known as the Dehradun Quarrying Case. The National Forest Policy, 1988 highlights the importance of forests in supporting environmental stability, ecological balance and ecological conservation.  

Role of forest officers

Forest officers are public servants employed by the Government for the administration and governance of the forests across the territory of India. All the States in India have formulated their own legislations for governing forests in their territory, with the Indian Forest Act, 1927 as the base.

Primarily, the role of the forest officers is to exercise the powers vested in them vide various acts/rules/manuals/etc.

The three primary acts which bestow power upon the forest officers are:

  1. Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the rules made thereunder.
  2. The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and the rules made thereunder.
  3. The Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the rules made thereunder.

Apart from these legislations, the forest officers are bound to implement the laws made by the legislatures of the respective States.

Hierarchy of Officers under the Indian Forest Act, 1927

The functioning of the forest officers is distributed according to their post. Therefore, it is important to understand the structure of positions in the forest department.

ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICERS

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests 

Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests

 

Chief Conservator of Forests

  Conservator of Forests

CONTROLLING OFFICERS

Deputy Conservator of Forests

 Assistant Conservator of Forests

IMPLEMENTING STAFF

Forest Range Officer

Forester

PROTECTION STAFF

Forest Guard

Forest Watcher

Duties and responsibilities of forest officers under the Indian Forest Act, 1927

Broadly, the role of the forest officers is to fulfil the range of following duties:

  1. Manage policy matters, which includes policies relating to wildlife management and wasteland development.
  2. Manage matters relating to the committees of the legislature.
  3. Overall control and supervision of territorial and functional changes.
  4. Establishment of inland/foreign training assignments pertaining to Indian Forest Services (IFS) Personnel, which includes disciplinary matters.
  5. Enforcement of the various legislations governing forests.
  6. Conducting a regular inspection of forests.
  7. Implementing, supervising and monitoring all activities as approved by the Management Plan.
  8. Managing forest utilisation.
  9. Monitoring of revenue, timber accounts and depots.
  10. Survey of forest resources.
  11. Corresponding with the subordinate officers of the department.
  12. Management of human resources and development.
  13. Management of matters related to forestry research.
  14. Formulation of Five Year Plans and Annual Budget Proposals.
  15. Monitoring all centrally assisted plans, schemes and programmes.
  16. Managing matters related to the acquisition of private forests.
  17. To promote afforestation.
  18. Conducting departmental examinations.
  19. Managing matters pertaining to Minor Forest Produce.
  20. Governing issues related to forest lands including demarcation and maintenance of forest boundaries, etc.

This is a wide structure of the roles and responsibilities of the forest officers. The intricate structure of administration differs from state to state.

Powers invested to Forest officers by the Provincial Government

Under Section 72 of the Act, the State Government is empowered to invest any forest-officer with any or all of the following powers:

Sr. No.

Powers

01

Power to enter upon any land and to survey, demarcate and make a map.

02

Powers of a Civil Court to compel the attendance of witnesses and production of documents and material objects.

03

Power to issue a search warrant under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.

04

Power to hold an inquiry into forest offences, and in the course of such inquiry to receive and record such evidence.

Further, the evidence which has been collected shall be admissible in a subsequent trial before a Magistrate, provided that it was taken in the accused person’s presence.

The scope of this section is:

  1. Power to enter upon any land.
  2. Power to issue a search warrant.

Apart from this, a forest officer is granted the power to compound offences under Section 68 of the Act. The State Government through a notification in the Official Gazette can empower a Forest Officer to accept from an offender a sum of money by way of compensation for the offence that such person has been suspected of committing. The sum of money to be accepted as compensation can not exceed fifty rupees.

The compounding of offences by a forest officer excludes offences mentioned in Section 62 and Section 63 of the Act. 

Further, to be empowered under this section the Forest Officer should be:

  1. Not below the rank of a Ranger.
  2. Should receive a monthly salary amounting to at least 100 rupees.

Under Section 52 of the Act, when there is a reason to believe that a forest offence has been committed in respect of any forest-produce, then it may be seized by any Forest Officer.

Important provision for Forest Officers under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872

In addition, apart from the powers bestowed by the State government, there are instances which give forest officers leverage. A Forest Officer is not a police officer within the meaning of Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and a confessional statement recorded by a Forest Officer is therefore valid in the court of law. Further, no eye witness is required to corroborate the same. Therefore, this power can be exercised for beneficial purposes.

Forest officers deemed public servants

Under Section 73 of the Act, all forest officers are deemed to be public servants within the meaning of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Definition of Public Servant under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 

The term ‘public servant’ has been defined under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Section 21 of the Code gives the descriptions of various posts which denote the term ‘public servant’. Under the eighth clause of the provision, all the officers of the Government who have been given the following duties are termed as ‘public servants’.

  1. To prevent offences.
  2. To give information about offences.
  3. To bring offenders to justice.
  4. To protect public health.
  5. To protect public safety or convenience. 

The forest officers are deemed to be public servants as they are empowered to perform all the above functions. A  forest officer who detects a person committing an offence enlisted under the Act may take him into custody. Therefore, the forest officer is a public servant under this provision, although he has been granted the status of a public servant under the Act.

Under Section 64 of the Act, any forest officer without a warrant and without orders from a Magistrate has the power to arrest any person against whom a reasonable suspicion exists of having committed a forest-offence, punishable with imprisonment of one month or more. 

Thus, the power to arrest without warrant shows that the offences under the Act are cognizable offences as per Section 2(c) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

Under 64(2), the forest officer is imposed with the duty to take the arrested person before a Magistrate. This provision explains how forest officers as public servants bring offenders to justice.

Under Section 66 of the Act, every forest officer shall make efforts to prevent or interfere for the purpose of preventing the commission of any forest-offence. This depicts how forest officers in their role as a public servant work for prevention of offences.

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Provisions for Public Servant under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 offers protection to public servants.

  1. Under Section 197, a prior sanction is required for prosecuting a public servant for an offence committed by him while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty.
  2. Under Section 200(a), if the complainant is a public servant, there is no need for him to be examined by the Magistrate.

Indemnity for acts done in good faith

Under Section 74 of the Act, it has been laid down that there shall lie no suit against any public servant for anything done by him in good faith under this Act.

The term ‘good faith’ has been defined under Section 52 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. It is a negative definition. The gist of the provision is that due care and attention function as essential elements to constitute ‘good faith’.

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 also provides instances wherein a public servant cannot be held liable if they have acted under good faith.

For example, in Section 99 of the Code, there is no right of private defence against an act which does not reasonably cause the apprehension of death or of grievous hurt, if done, or attempted to be done, by a public servant acting in good faith under the colour of his office.

Forest officers not to trade

Under Section 75 of the Act, no forest officer either as an agent or as a principal is allowed to do any of the following, except with permission in writing from the State Government.

  1. Trading in timber or other forest produce.
  2. Be or become interested in any lease of any forest or in any contract for working in any forest, whether in or outside the territorial jurisdiction of this Act.

It has been provided under Section 168 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 that if a public servant who is legally bound to not engage in trade, engages in trade, then they shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term extending to one year, or fine, or both. Since forest officers are deemed to be public servants, this provision applies to them.

Conclusion

There are certain limitations of the law imposed on the officers. Therefore, it becomes important as to how the forest officers carry out their functions and responsibilities. The primary duty of these officers is the implementation of the forest laws and prevention of forest offences. 

The officers are bestowed with numerous powers under various acts, which they should use for the protection, conservation and development of forests.

In the time of climate crisis, it is extremely essential that our forests are safeguarded. It then becomes crucial for the legislative, executive and the judiciary to function in consonance and lay down new environmental laws which cater to the contemporary needs of the society.


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